Steel Druhm is a sucker for that classic, old school doom sound perfected by bands like Pentagram, Witchfinder General and Saint Vitus. It seems Phil Swanson feels the same way, since he spends his life cranking that kinda shit out with acts like Briton Rites, and his main unit, Hour of 13. 333 is the crappily named third release by this doom-drenched two-man project, and along with Chad Davis, Phil has outdone himself with some truly inspired, retro-doom tuneage. If you’ve heard the prior Hour of 13 material, you know exactly what to expect and 333 is right in line. For those who haven’t, this is doom ripped from the year 1979 or 1980 at the latest. There’s big, distorted riffing, slightly crazed, wailing vocals that would make Ozzy proud, and a heavy, low-end rumble to keep it all anchored. It comes closest to the work of Witchfinder General (especially Phil’s vocals) but there are plenty of references to Pentagram, Saint Vitus and naturally, the mighty Sabbath. However, they also incorporate loads of classy NWOBHM flavor and there’s more than a little vintage Mercyful Fate referenced in the riffage. That all adds up to one tasty package of sonic fun. It seems Mr. Swanson has this whole style of music down cold.
333 is a fairly short, seven song affair, and the songs are appropriately long-winded and cover gloomy topics. However, this is way more of an upbeat and rocking style of doom. Lead track “Deny the Cross” starts as a traditional doom ditty with a somber mood, but slowly builds up into a more aggressive, rocked out style. The big winner comes with “The Burning,” which is pretty much worth the price of the album all by its lonesome. It’s long, but just loaded with razor-sharp NWOBHM riffs alongside some nifty doom leads. It’s like amped up Witchfinder General with plenty of the aforementioned Mercyful Fate style, and it’s a lot of fun from start to finish. Other winning moments include the catchy vocal hooks of “Rites of Samhain,” the incessant, urgent riffing of “Who’s to Blame” and the seriously infectious, ballsy doom/rock on “Lucky Bones.” All seven song are of high quality and all have memorable riffs and vocal hooks.
Mr. Swanson’s vocals are a bit of an acquired taste, but I Love them. He has a very nasal, whining delivery that falls somewhere between Ozzy, Scott Reagers (Saint Vitus) and Bobby Liebling (Pentagram). Sometimes he sounds ghoulish and other times he sounds more like a petulant rock star, but he always makes the songs interesting and I dig his oddball delivery here, as I did on the stellar Briton Rites opus. Chad Davis makes everything come together by throwing down a bunch of above-average doom riffs (the simple but biting riff in “Sea of Trees” is classic) and he really excels at sprinkling in the NWOBHM accents as well. However, his drum and bass work tends to be fairly simple and offers little in the way of flash or bang.
Sound-wise, they went with a retro, old-school mix, and I suppose they had no choice given the music and style they play. 333 has a slightly 70’s vibe and a warm, but somewhat muddy mix. It works though.
I expected 333 to be solid, but it’s way better than anticipated and easily surpasses the new Saint Vitus. Mr. Swanson continues to earn the title of modern day Doom Lord and I hope he keeps the hits coming. If you like doom and haven’t checkout out Hour of 13, do yourself a favor and track them down along, with Briton Rites. This stuff is made by hardcore doom fans, for hardcore doom fans. What more could you ask for, besides a less crappy album cover and title?